Turkey's military stops bill granting favors to Islamic students

Monday, May 31, 2004

ANKARA Turkey's military has won a battle to quash a law meant to faciliate the entry of Islamic students into university and civil service.

Turkish President Ahmet Sezer vetoed an education reform bill that would pave the way for Islamic seminary students to enter universities and government. Sezer said on May 28 that the legislation which also reduced the military's role in higher education would encourage youngsters to attend religious schools and violate the secular principles of Turkey.

"The president found the law to be partially inappropriate and returned it to parliament," a presidential statement said.

The military has blamed state-operated religious schools for spawning Islamic insurgency groups and their supporters, Middle East Newsline reported. Senior commanders have accused Islamic groups of trying to infiltrate the army and government sector.

"It is a fact, however, that the number of students who attend such schools is excessive even today," Sezer said in a 19-page decision.

"Permitting graduates of religious schools to benefit from the same rights of university education as graduates of general high schools does not comply with the principles of secularism. Legislation that does not comply with the state's objectives and reasons for existence and which is passed only because of a parliamentary majority has an adverse impact on the conscience of the society."

A presidential spokesman said Sezer had "partially vetoed" the legislation. The spokesman said the president asked parliament to reconsider four articles of the law as part of an effort to ensure that it would not violate the constitution.

The legislation was overwhelmingly supported by the ruling pro-Islamic Justice and Development Party, headed by Prime Minister Recep Erdogan. Erdogan had attended a religious school.

Under the bill, graduates of religious vocational schools established by the state to train Muslim clerics would be granted equal access to universities. Currently, religious school students obtain degrees in divinity studies and do not have enough credits for university. With university degrees, Islamic students would be able to enter public service.

Sezer's veto did not kill the legislation. Parliament could pass the bill again, which would force the president to sign the legislation into law or refer the issue to the constitutional court. If parliament revises the bill, Sezer could later impose a veto.

"There is no need to push through some issues and destabilize the country," Deputy Prime Minister Abdullatif Sener said. "Turkey has more important issues. This issue is neither our, nor the imam-hatips [religious schools], priority."

Last week, Turkish Deputy Chief of Staff Gen. Ilker Basbug warned against creeping Islamization in Turkey. He stressed that secularism was the key to democracy.

"Secularism is the main driving force in development of democracy in Turkey," Basburg said. "The principle of secularism is the milestone of all values forming the republic of Turkey."

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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